Saturday, February 25, 2017

Diana talks to Marius Gabriel





Hi Marius, it is lovely to have a chance to chat with you like this!!
First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Q: Is it awfully hard being a dazzling genius?
A: Oh no, I take it in my stride. (Lolololol!!!)

If your latest book TAKE ME TO YOUR HEART AGAIN was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
A: Well, there are three lead parts, and I’d have Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling and Sophie Rundle!  (Nice one effendi! I can picture them all in the roles)


(Click here to access Diana's review of this splendid book!)



What made you choose this genre?
A: I am very interested in the period (1930s to 1950s)

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
A: All three characters are modelled on my mum. (That is really interesting! What a wonderfully complex character she must have been!)
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
A: Oh, without a doubt I’d write a mind-bending Science Fiction novel. I love SciFi. And no, I don’t have a plot cos I’m rubbish at writing SciFi.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
A: I was about twelve. I never really wanted to do anything else, though I valiantly had a go at lecturing and Law. (Gosh!!)

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
A: Love Bovril, does that help? (Mmmmmm. Me too!)

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
A: I don’t trust you not to betray me. (Wise man!!)


Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
A: Pope. (What I said before. That!)


Coffee or tea? Red or white?
A: Coffee. Red.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
A: I have not so much a full draft as a skeleton outline. I know what major story points I want to reach, but the episodes in between unfold day by day.


If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
A: Times New Roman. Funnily enough. (Ditto. But I won't tell my alter ego that!)

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
A: One of Shakespeare’s original playbooks for a major character like Lear or Othello. (GOSH! Me too!)

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
A: Oh, all the time. Writing wouldn’t be much fun if that didn’t happen!

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
A: I do a lot of research, in books, on the internet, and on trips. Usually many months.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
A: Not sure I understand the question. You mean, like Tony Blair? (Good example!!)

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
A: I try hard to stick to the facts, but of course I have my own interpretation of the emotions and motivations that lie behind them. I distrust most “official versions.”

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
A: No. Yes. (Pardon??)

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
A: I love them all. (So do your readers)

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
A: I love almost anything that is well-written and interesting. Exceptions are fantasy novels set in worlds where “anything goes” and self-published poetry. (...and I thought you were going to say Diana's Facebook Statuses. Disappointed face!)
What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
A: A nice pot of tea (with some custard creams). (OK OK! I know I forgot to send you any custard creams last year. My bad. Sorry!!)

I hope this makes up for my oversight!

Last but not least... favourite author?
A: Too many to pick out one, Dia
na. Ya oughta know better than that! (It is easier for us. We just say Marius Gabriel!!)

A little about Marius
Author's page and books  - click on the link to follow him!!


Marius Gabriel
 
Whilst looking through Marius's biography I found one of his books I had never read before!! The Original Sin. How have I missed that???

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Marius Gabriel January 2017


































Saturday, February 18, 2017

Diana talks to Jeanette Taylor Ford


Hi Jeanette, it is lovely to be able to talk to you like this. I have a great love of the Cromer area and loved your paranormal book about the area! First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Do you have any literary qualifications or study creative writing?
No, nothing. Because I was a poorly child and missed a lot of schooling, I never had any ‘O’ or ‘A’ Levels and I never studied writing in any way. I couldn’t read until I was eight, but once I could, I never stopped reading and have had 57 years-worth of reading behind me and still reading. I want to say to others, don’t be put off writing if you have no qualifications; if you are meant to write, then you should do so. I do it because I love it and am always so happy to hear that the few readers I have do really enjoy my books.

If your latest book ‘Yr Aberth (The Sacrifice) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? 
That’s a difficult one because my latest book is the last of a trilogy and the main character, Shelly, is only ten when the first book starts and by this one she is a married woman in her twenties. However, I could see her father, David, being played by Piers Brosnan; he is the all-American, handsome, suave business-man type, and I could see Dame Helen Mirran playing David’s mother, Elise, who is the ultra-sophisticated, elegant owner and fashion designer of the exclusive line of ‘Elise-Louise’. The rather cute Eddie Redmayne would be great as Shelly’s husband, Phillip.

What made you choose this genre? 
It wasn’t a conscious decision really. When I first started writing again, I wrote a few short stories based around actual paranormal incidents that had happened to me over the years. The first book I wrote, ‘The Sixpenny Tiger’, based around my life during my late teens is completely different and very down to earth. Having written a book set in Hereford, a place I love, I wanted to write a story about my birth town, Cromer, and ended up doing a paranormal story involving the long-drowned village of Shipden. From then on, the genre has sort of followed me!

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? 
They usually start from a small idea and then grow in my head until it becomes a whole story. Often, it is a fascination for a building or a place, usually a ruined or very old place where I’ve picked up an atmosphere, or in the case of ‘Bell of Warning’, the tales of the church and the village in the sea that abound in Cromer. For my trilogy, it was the photographs that we took of Gwrych Castle when my family took a walk around it several years ago. I kept getting the photos out and looking at them. Then I discovered the castle had a website with its history and what had happened to let it fall into ruins. ‘The Hireath’ was originally a one-off story but the wicked Bronwen grew on me so much I had to keep her as a character even though she was dead and the one story grew into three!

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Publishing is not an issue for me because I self-publish and I can publish what I want. I don’t feel duty-bound to keep to one genre and have recently published a fantasy book for children, which I hope will become at least three. Otherwise, I would love to write a crime novel and yes, I do have a budding plot line for it, in fact I have actually started to write it but I have abandoned it in order to write my present WIP.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
It was something of an accident in a way. I’ve always loved writing but apart from the stories I wrote when I was at school, I had confined my writing to letters or my personal history. As a teaching assistant, I found it quite frustrating trying to get children to write and I would be coming up with wholesale ideas of what they could write and they would reject every idea!  A few years ago, I came into Facebook contact with a man whose sisters I went to school with. (Long story, don’t want to bore you with that one) We started to talk and discovered that we both liked writing. He joined a poetry group and wanted me to join too so I did and I started writing poetry. Then there was a ‘Flash Fiction’ group and I wrote for that. Eventually, I thought I would try my hand at writing a book – after all, ‘they’ say that everyone has a book inside them. I wrote it haphazardly, drawing on my experiences working in a children’s home in the late sixties and it turned out well. I was bereft when I finished that book as I had spent so much time with my characters.  I thought that was it as I had no more ideas but then the ideas started to flow; I was bitten by the writing bug and now I can’t stop! I wrote the first book in 2010 so I was 59.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
I adore Marmite! When my sister was diagnosed Coeliac, back in the 1960s, dad used to make her bread every week. I use the term ‘bread’ loosely, because it wasn’t like any bread I know! Butter was completely wrong on it but Marmite worked really well. I liked the bread and was allowed to have a slice as a treat! I have trained all my family to love Marmite. Since then, Marmite has helped me through all versions of gluten-free bread down the years! (I am also Coeliac)

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? 
No rituals, I’m afraid, sorry. However, I like to have some background noise, usually the television, and a bag of large Cadbury’s buttons to hand if possible. They have to be Cadburys and large because, for some reason, the small buttons make me ill.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Hmm, difficult one! I’m lucky because I’m retired and only live with my husband, I have no children at home to look after. However, during family times I just about manage, although my characters never leave me and while I am away from my computer, they are still weaving their story in my head so I don’t worry, I just get it down when I’m able. However, when I’m at a crucial stage in a book my poor husband does rather take second place.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Believe it or not, I would have liked to be in entertainment, either musical (I used to sing well and I play the piano, and guitar, but not well now) or an actress in comedy or character; I love interacting with an audience. Many of my family are very entertaining; we have a hilarious time when we get together.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I often just start knowing how the story will begin and end, with an idea of what the main steps will be. The rest just happens along the way. I do keep a list of my characters in an exercise book and in the case of The Castell Glas Trilogy, I kept a timeline because the three books covered about twenty five years, all told.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Not really, although I admit I was surprised when Sean turned up again in book 3 and became key to helping the family out of a tricky problem when he’d helped to cause trouble in book 2.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Obviously, because I don’t write historical fiction, I don’t do all that much research. However, I do research when needed. Strangely, I did more research for my shortest book, ‘Bell of Warning’ than for any of the others. I actually did go to Cromer to look at certain places, check up on the position of Shipden and I talked to local people who had dived down there. I also learned about the nature of subsidence in the area and how to train to do a deep-sea dive. For this latest book I needed to know about the earthquake situation in Peru but of course I did that on the internet.
 
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
This is not usually applicable for my books but in Bell of Warning, I do say about the differences in my author’s notes at the beginning. In ‘Yr Aberth’, there wasn’t actually an earthquake in Peru in the year that Phillip was there but I decided to ignore it – the story is completely fiction anyway.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I like all my characters, even the bad ones. However, I did rather love Geraint, Shelly’s grandfather and also Tom, an American Indian, who was supposed to have a cameo role but ultimately walked into a more important one because of the love he had for Shelly’s mother. I wished I could have had a man like him. It always surprises me when a reader says how much they hate Bronwen, or Marjorie,in ‘Sixpenny Tiger’, or that they fell in love with Danny, in Rosa, for instance, but I’m gratified too because it means my characters seem real.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I love reading anything that’s a bit mysterious and captures my imagination, such as The Labyrinth and Sanctus but I also enjoy light crime or romances but don’t care for the sickly, Barbara Cartland sort of stuff. I like reading about ordinary people; not all men are handsome, sardonic and mysterious! I also love to read Barbara Erskine’s books. I know that some historical fiction writers don’t care for her writings but I have learned quite a bit of history from her books and I like that there’s always a sort of paranormal slant to them; although I like paranormal (and indeed write it) I don’t go for the scary, in-your-face, keep-you-awake-at-night horror –type paranormal. I prefer subtle chills.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
A nice, creamy hot chocolate.

Last but not least... favourite author?
I don’t really have one favourite; I think it limits too much. As I said, I like Barbara Erskine, Kate Mosse, Simon Toyne, Tolkien, Santa Montifiore, Louise Marley, Tricia Ashley and of course, Robert Southworth, Paula Lofting and Seumas Gallacher. In the past I’ve liked Catharine Cookson, Anne McCaffrey, Nora Lofts and many others. I just love books!

About Jeanette: I am a born story teller. From my school days I have loved making up stories. One teacher I had said he always left my work until last to mark because he knew he would get a good read from me after he'd ploughed through all the bad work! I loved doing bedtime stories with my children and, in my last position as a Teaching Assistant, from which I am now retired, my favourite thing was reading to the children when I got the chance, also helping them to make up stories of their own. Those who have read my stories have enjoyed them, so I finally decided to inflict them upon the world in general. Some of them are ghostly tales, combined with loveable characters and interesting situations which make them ghost stories with a difference. However, I also write children's stories and other genres, which are not yet published.

Because of ill health, I was not particularly well educated. I do not have a degree of any sort, nor have I attended any creative writing classes. My retirement has given me the opportunity to indulge my love of writing and I ask for no more than to give enjoyment to my readers. I am married to Tony, a retired teacher, and we have six children and seven grandchildren. We live near Nottingham, England.                



© Diana Milne January 2017 © Jeanette Taylor Ford, January 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Richard reviews Mariah's Song, by Barbara Emanuelson

The author of this book has kindly offered one copy of ‘Mariah's Song’. To be in with a chance to win, just leave a comment below or on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thereviewgroup/posts/1676615552367792).
The draw will be announced about a week after this post.

Cover image, Mariah's Song
Mariah's Song, by Barbara Emanuelson, is primarily intended as a YA book, but can easily be enjoyed by a much wider age range. It is rooted in a place and period of American history about which I knew almost nothing - a fishing village in mid 19th century coastal New England - but this underpinning is done so thoroughly that I soon felt at home. But the history, however authentic, is only the starting point for this lovely tale.

I'm a sucker for Selkie stories, which traditionally come from what we think of as Celtic lands, chiefly Scotland and Ireland. It seemed altogether plausible to me that similar themes might easily arise in the New England fishing communities we read about here. After all, the seal colonies are much the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was there that the seals would come. They were there that day, and were a comforting, familiar sight to my eyes... One in particular got my attention. It was a cow. Her head was raised higher than the rest, and she stared at me through the throng. She had beautiful dark eyes that seemed to call me, even though she made no sound.

The story, then, bridges historical fiction and fantasy, and carries the reader along with it. The main character, Mariah, faces difficulties in her community, and has to exercise the ordinary kind of courage needed for navigating through life. There are all kinds of choices to be made, both within her family and also as her romantic life begins to blossom. Such choices are not easy, nor does Mariah always choose rightly.

Monomoy Point Lighthouse, c.1865 (Wiki)
Circumstances have forced maturity on her earlier than we would consider normal today, but which has been the case for many young women throughout history. Surrounded as she is by kindness and cruelty, loyalty and prejudice, she has to choose which to imitate and fashion in her own life, and which to reject. The unfolding events - some of which are acutely painful - challenge her assumptions about life and her future, and draw out from her a growing sensitivity of soul.

But Mariah's life is lived in the liminal zone between two worlds - that of human society and that of the sea. Identifying and choosing the heritage site wants is not an easy task. She is essentially an amphibian, drawn towards two very different futures. On the one hand her life is very ordinary and constrained, but on the other it is full of mystery, enjoying a magical communion with the ocean. She is surrounded by help and support from both sides, but in the end has to make her own decisions.

Seal - Eastern Isles - Scilly
We lifted the nets, one at a time, with me standing in the middle to assist. We heaved as we threw the teeming nets on board. The cod wriggled and jumped, gasping for air, dancing until they moved no more. Soon, the boat was as still as our catch... It took us a few hours to get back to the wharf... Other fishermen were in, some before and some after us... None of them had a catch like ours.

I really enjoyed this book, as much for the immersion in period American life as for the fantasy elements. Mariah becomes a vivid, intensely credible person, and it is easy to prolong the fantasy and imagine her descendants still roaming the Atlantic seaboard. Mariah's Song comes highly recommended by me.


About the author:
Barbara Emanuelson
Barbara Emanuelson  is a retired educator and award winning author of fiction and folklore fantasy. In addition to MARIAH'S SONG, she is the author of the historical fiction  novel, THROUGH TEMPEST FORGED and two short ghost stories, "Blue Like the Water" (TALES FROM THE WASATCH AND BEYOND) and  "The Unveiled Bride" (TALES FROM OGDEN CANYON). As well as writing, she enjoys reading, gardening, walking, and playing the piano. She is the mother of three wonderful daughters. Barbara currently resides in North Carolina with her beloved husband, Reverend Father Jon and two cats, Marzipan and Chimene. The Mariah's Song Facebook page may be found at https://www.facebook.com/Mariahs-Song-1504253213233652

About the reviewer:
Richard Abbott lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed LandScenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us,Far from the Spaceports- and most recently Timing. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+GoodreadsFacebook and Twitter.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Diana talks to ... Richard Abbott




Hi Richard, good to chat with you! Hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

I thought the question should be something about the roles of men and women in my books. I like writing about both men and women, and the diverse interactions between them. I also write about situations which naturally lend themselves to active participation by both sexes – helped no little by working in an environment where this is completely normal. So it was with great pleasure that I read a recent review of Timing which talked about the “bevy… of intelligent and formidable women” found in its pages. Whether writing about past or future, I like to include as much diversity as I can.

If your latest book ' Timing ' was made into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? Hmm, I’m not very good on the names of actors. Aamir Khan (who played the male lead in Lagaan) looks right for Mitnash, while Rene Auberjonois is just right temperamentally, though rather too old now. Alexander Siddig would be good too, I think. Out of women to play Slate, which is necessarily a voice part, I think Jennifer Spence or Alaina Huffman would do a good job. Both have played technically-skilled parts in science fiction before.

What made you choose this genre? Well, I like experimenting with different genres. I started with historical fiction – and one day hope to dive back into the remote past – but recently I have been exploring science fiction. My most nearly complete WIP, Half Sick of Shadows, is something of a historical fantasy. I don’t feel constrained to stick with one genre.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I am a great believer that many human traits are the same whether you look back or forward in time. So, I find inspiration in the human interactions and occupations I see around me. The scribe Makty-Rasut and his fellow tomb workers in Scenes from a Life were drawn heavily from situations I saw when I was an IT contractor. My current science fiction series is based around financial fraud and hacking, something I have to be aware of in my day job. But (to reassure those who know me) hardly anyone is copied directly from a real person… there are always changes and blends going on. I hope that readers will recognise the kind of characters they meet in my books, but not specific individuals. Plot-wise I start with broad ideas (say a particular kind of financial crime) and work towards details.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? (Wry laugh) Well, I can guarantee publication because I do it myself! What I can’t guarantee is popularity… But seriously I like dabbling with multiple genres. I do want to go back to historical fiction sometime, partly to tie up the loose ends in my Late Bronze Age series, and then to go back even further to the Neolithic or such like. But I have rough plans for a couple more science fiction books, and I have really enjoyed the sidestep into fantasy – look out for Half Sick of Shadows, later this year sometime. That’ll keep me busy for a while for sure.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I have always liked reading, and way back in university days started a long fantasy novel. That manuscript is long since lost – perhaps for the better – and many years passed before I started writing again. The way in for me was via historical study, and the jump to fiction was small. So, I guess it was progress in fits and starts.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? Kind of indifferent (sorry) – I wouldn’t select it if there was a choice, but I wouldn’t turn it down either.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I write a lot on the Northern Line, tucked in a corner as I travel between East Finchley and Embankment. That doesn’t really lend itself to favourite bits and pieces. If at home I almost always write without music on – but if I’m editing or working over some already-written piece, then I will probably put on some cool prog rock like Yes or Caravan. Recently I’ve been indulging in Manfred Mann. I almost always write first on my phone, into GMail, then transfer into a text editor and produce the Kindle version in the evening. That way I can always check how it looks on an actual reader. But often it’s a matter of grabbing whatever time I can in the midst of a busy life, so I can’t be too precious about rituals and such like.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? Family definitely.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? I really like what I do (quality assurance in IT) and would be reluctant to give it up. I reckon there’s a lot of value in keeping on working with other colleagues and doubt my ability to manage well if I was just on my own – probably this way madness lies! Given the option I’d probably shift the balance a little between day job and writing, but I wouldn’t want to give up the day job altogether.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Tea, almost every time. For alcohol, probably white though I’d prefer a nice ale to any sort of wine.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? For historical fiction, I have a clear plan not just for plot but for structure as well, since formal layout was important back then and I like to try to imitate the process of creation as well as the setting. For the rest, I have a sense of where I want to go, and some specific key scenes along the way, but I am not nearly so orderly about planning here. I don’t make a draft in the conventional sense of that word – just lots and lots of reappraisal as the thing develops.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? I’m a rebel here and an enthusiast of epublishing – so I’d want my readers to pick their own font at will rather than feel they had to put up with my choice. Just for fun, I tried seeing what my books look like with the fairly recent dyslexic font available in many Kindles – I couldn’t read it all the time but it was a useful exercise seeing what it was like.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? The founding statement of principles of the first colony on the asteroid Ceres, at the point it transitioned from being just a commercial mining settlement into a real human community.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? A minor character from Far from the Spaceports has developed something of an interesting life of her own – and will continue to do so in #3 (provisionally called The Authentication Key). I just went with the flow, presuming that my subconscious knew all about this.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? For historical fiction, yes, lots, and yes I have (some of the Greek islands, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel). For science fiction, I’d certainly be up for a trip to the asteroid belt – or even Mars – if anybody offered it. Sadly, the opportunity has not yet presented itself. For the emerging fantasy books, I guess the research is more into internal space rather than external.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot? Well, when I write historical fiction I focus on people who were in normal terms rather unimportant. So, the problem doesn’t really arise. Besides, I am looking at periods of time where the amount of written evidence is small, and we know the names of so few individuals that I don’t feel constrained. Nobody has yet quibbled about my portrayal of Joshua in In a Milk and Honeyed Land, but then I didn’t kill him off or anything nasty. Unless you’ve acquired a time machine it’s not an issue when writing about the future! But even there, I prefer writing about ordinary people rather than Galactic Overlords or the like.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this? Same answer really – in the historical periods I like, “known facts” are few and far between. I have a desire to write something set in ancient Doggerland (now under the waves of the North Sea) and I don’t reckon many facts will disturb me there. With futuristic stuff, I try to be careful to make the technology plausible, which I suppose is meeting the same goals as checking historical facts.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? In the places and times I write about, they are always blurred! There are ongoing vigorous debates about whether whole decades and centuries need to be moved around, even for something as recent as Late Bronze. I don’t live in a fictional world where everyone is confident of the actual date and hour of this or that event. That’s part of the pleasure…

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Never hated them – I wouldn’t bother to write about them if I hated them. But there are definitely people that I would get seriously fed up with if I had to work with them. But love some of them, oh yes.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Mostly good science fiction or good fantasy. I have got a bit chary of some historical fiction as there is a trend for high body counts and the like. But when I find a book I like then it doesn’t really matter what genre it is. As a rule, I prefer novella or novel length books to short stories.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Russian Caravan tea.** Or maybe a really nice Jasmine green tea. Or just possibly a local ale if something stronger takes your fancy.

Last but not least... favourite author? I think this has to be Ursula LeGuin. There are a few others close to her but on balance I’m sure she is at the top of the pile.
Thank you Richard! Very interesting!!
Richard Abbott writes fiction set in two very different places. First, there is historical fiction set in the Middle East at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200BC. The second area is science fiction, set in a near-future solar system exploring issues of high-tech crime and human-machine relationships.

His first science fiction book, Far from the Spaceports, introduces Mitnash Thakur and his virtual partner Slate as they investigate financial crime in the asteroid belt. A follow-up novel, Timing, introduces a new investigation starting about a year later.

His first book, In a Milk and Honeyed Land, explores events in the Egyptian province of Canaan. It follows the life, loves, and struggles of a priest in the small hill town of Kephrath.

A follow-up novel entitled Scenes from a Life begins in Egypt. It follows the journey of a scribe as he travels to discover his origins. down the Nile from Luxor and finally out into Canaan.

A third book, The Flame Before Us, is set in the middle of calamity. New settlers are arriving from the north, sacking cities and disrupting the established ways of life as they come. This story follows several different groups each trying to adjust to the new situation.

Author readings from both In a Milk and Honeyed Land and Scenes from a Life are available online as YouTube videos.

The short story The Man in the Cistern is set in the same location as In a Milk and Honeyed Land, but around ten years later.

The short story The Lady of the Lions is set in the same location but around one hundred and fifty years earlier.

Triumphal Accounts in Hebrew and Egyptian is the ebook version of his PhD thesis which, for those who want the technical details, supplies academic underpinning for some of the ideas and plot themes followed up in fiction.

Richard lives in London, England and works professionally in IT quality assurance.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District.
 

**Russian Caravan is a blend of oolong, keemun, and lapsang souchong teas, all produced from Camellia sinensis the Chinese tea plant

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Richard Abbott December 2016







Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Delivery Girl: Tony McAndrew - A review by Diana

Tony McAndrew and Wild Wolf Publishing are generously giving a Kindle copy of this stunning book to one really lucky reader. Believe me, it is worth reading!
To win this book, comment on the blog itself or on the Review post. All the names will be assigned a number and go into the random number generator and on 16th February the winner will be chosen.

 
 
I have often read good books and fairly frequently read brilliant books, but it is rare that I read a book that I can genuinely say is great. It is no surprise that this incredible author comes from the same literary stable as R Glenn, Poppet and CW Lovatt. Wild Wolf Publishing seems currently to have more astounding talent among its published contributors than most publishing houses acquire in their publishing lifetime. What is even more astounding is that this little masterpiece is Tony McAndrew’s first novel.
 
The tough, uncompromising story is set in a run down burnt out city. If you need drugs, money, a gun, nine year old Anna Ramanova is The Delivery Girl. Foreign, precociously bright, abused by all around her she is the one all the other children hate. Hers is a world of casual brutality, gangsters and goons, drugs and booze, prostitutes and paedophiles, where the ugly sisters of self-harm and suicide wait to show her the only road out of a miserable existence. That is until a grotesque but strangely endearing old hunchback enters her life. As impeccably gracious as he is ruthlessly violent, deliverance, it seems, comes in many forms.
 
The story speaks of violence and sadistic bullies in a way that is so natural that it gives us a small glimpse into the ‘naturally accepted’ habitat in which Anna now exists, accepting pain and humiliation as the normal state of things, but longing for the outlet of death and the feel of her dead mother’s arms around her. Anna is both worldly wise and innocent. Without giving too many spoilers, Anna takes an opportunity to steal a nail varnish without guilt or thought, as would a much older and hardened criminal, but paints the nails of an angel statue with the stolen pink polish like any small girl would be tempted to do. Despite the vicious acts she has witnessed and experienced, she still retains an innocence and a heart of pure gold for people who are worse off than she is.
 
The language and the vivid pictures that this book conjures in the minds of the reader give an intimate immediacy to the whole beautiful, tragic, hopeful, hopeless scenario. The characters are so brilliantly presented and portrayed that we can see them, at times even smell them, hear them and feel Anna’s reaction to them; the whole thing gripped me from page one right until the finish, both the horrific and humdrum becoming truly beautiful by means of McAndrew’s exceptional story telling ability and the descriptions beyond the usual. I kept page after page turning to see this world he painted so well...
 
This book deserves to be read a hundred years from now as a vivid social history portrait of the underbelly of England in the 21st century. The story telling genius and vocabulary of the author will ensure that it is.

What other people said:

Kindle Customer: Sue Dawson on 16 July 2016
A dark journey into the life of Anna , who slipped through the network of support all children should be entitled to but sadly has holes as large as a string vest. The book keeps you drawn in as her life unfolds, hoping for a good result . One of many children who live a life unimagined by adults living in a comfortable world. Well done Mr Mcandrew. Can't wait for the next book.

Goodreads reader Ruty B
...The writer created a solid and believable world where cruelty is as normal as breathing. The writing is really good and the characters are well built. The action is non-stop and the rhythm is intense ...

About Tony McAndrew:

Having what little education thrashed into him by nuns caned out of him by grammar school, Tony kept a promise to himself to begin writing when he finished doing tedious stuff like working full time.

After a wander through psychiatric nursing, the Met Police and almost thirty years as a frontline paramedic the time seemed about right. He still works now and again in Primary Care somewhere in Wales and lives happily on the Gower indulging in writing, reading, talking, drinking beer and floating in the sea with his wife.

The Delivery Girl is his first novel; an unapologetically dark and brutal story, part wish fulfilment for, and part homage to, all the abused children he saw fall through the cracks.  And still fall.

He is currently working on a prequel after finishing a lighter second novel – Mad Cat, Franz and The Bomb.

The Delivery Girl is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

© Diana Milne (aka d.arcadian) January 2017





Saturday, February 4, 2017

Diana talks to - Tony McAndrew

 
 




Hello Diana thanks for the invite.
I am really excited to be talking to you Tony. I am also reviewing your book, the Delivery Girl, here for the Review Blog page later in the week. The Delivery Girl is without doubt the best published book that I have read so far this year - and I am a prolific reader!
I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

Well let’s hope I can come up with some unusual answers.
First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

A question from me to me? Ok.

Will you marry me?

Yes of course. I thought you’d never ask.
(Laughing loudly here!! Hmmmmm..... if you want to ask me the same question?????)

If your latest book The Delivery Girl was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

The Delivery Girl herself would be a difficult search but I daresay a public casting call would weasel the right young girl out. The other lead character Mikhail, um, perhaps Richard E. Grant - if he’s up to the more athletic scenes of course. I wouldn’t want him to bust a hip or something. Anyhow why not him? If Liam Neeson can be turned into an action hero then why not Richard? Fantastic actor. He has a million candle charisma and even when he smiles his eyes still retain a certain sinister quality which is just what’s called for in the role.  (What a perfect person for the role!!)

What made you choose this genre?

Do you know I didn’t choose a genre Diana. Never gave it a thought. If I’m honest I wrote Delivery Girl and then it was more a case of finding a genre fit for it. Personally I think it’s a contemporary urban fable but my agent says it’s literary fiction and my publisher says it’s fiction with teeth. Genre can be fluid and opinions differ which is how it should be. (I say it is a future classic!!)

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?

Ideas quite literally can trigger from anything. Something I see, hear, read, an event, a comment, a joke, an injustice particularly, a silly fact, a conversation overheard. I’m very fortunate and grateful the list is endless; for the time being at least.

Characters likewise. With one or two exceptions they invariably, and rather weirdly, turn up fully formed. The main character in the novel, Anna, is one exception being perhaps twenty percent based on a child I met during my career. Mikhail on the other hand merely stepped in through the back door of my mind and introduced himself, very politely.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I think a full on horror-thriller - and yes as it happens I do.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.

I’d always wanted to write but never found the time. A feeble and well-trodden excuse I know. On reflection I wonder if I would even have been capable when I was younger, yet yes, thinking about it, as you say, there was an element of compulsion involved. That, a re-location to South Wales, semi-retirement and the great inducement of suddenly having some spare time was the kick up the backside I needed. Now dammit I can’t stop!

Marmite? Love it or hate it?

I like it but could easily live without it, unlike a young guy I know of who eats it by the teaspoon. (Even I don't do that - now!)

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

A spot of Tai chi, you mean? Some deep breathing exercises, lunges and splits? That sort of thing? No, not really. I don’t have set times to write either and can even tolerate some background noise; if I did put on some music it would only become just that. Once I start writing I tend to block everything out. By the way how did you know I have a favourite cup?  (Um...Mikhail told me?????)

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?

My characters tell me they are.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Other than writing? Well I was lucky enough to have had a great career as a paramedic; very rewarding. Difficult question. Ok. I suppose something entirely altruistic, noble and worthy. Off the top of my head I can’t for the life of me, think what that would be, but just something that makes people downright happy. If that sounds nauseatingly twee I would, however, set aside one day a year and a bottle of claret to gloat over the misfortunes of others too.

Coffee or tea?

Both. Fresh black coffee at industrial strength anytime and tea via intravenous drip throughout the day, white no sugar. My wife says I’m far too bitter to sweeten anyhow.  ((Smile))

Red or white?

Again both. Oh, and everything in between. Breakfast of champions.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?

I think it’s perhaps a combination of the two with a lot of mulching thrown in. The theme or story springs from the original idea. I always know the end first, quite often the beginning too, and many of the milestones between. The arc of the story develops around them and quite often goes off in directions I hadn’t initially thought of.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I’ve always liked the quaint look of Old English but I imagine it could get tiresome. Best stick with Times New Roman. (Yep. Ditto!)

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

I’d love to spend time with the original handwritten manuscripts of past writers the calibre of Defoe, Swift, Stevenson, Dickens, Austen, Melville, Shelley, Wells and Twain to name but a few. To see the doodles, changes, the bubbles and arrows, the crossings out; all the side notes, smudges, marks and comments. Technically how they worked. How they did it. No spacing, automatic page numbering; no delete, cut, paste or copy for those boys and girls. True genius. 

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
They try all the time. As you write you begin to think, hey, this character or these characters could, as you say, have adventures of their own in another story and you end up tilting it a little in their favour. Sometimes it enriches the overall novel but it can be a dangerous distraction and unbalance things. Best to read the ungrateful swine the riot act, slap them around a little and always be prepared to “kill your darlings” if you have to. And let them know you will.

 
How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?

The research for Delivery Girl was minimal really, mostly extracted from my experience. A second novel I’ve finished but still editing, a Young Adult ghost story, required a fair bit of reference work but nothing requiring location trips. I’m also midway through writing a prequel to Delivery Girl set in sixties Alabama which is challenging but there is a great public archive of that era. (I really feel I cannot wait! Hurry, Tony, hurry!)


Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
So far I’ve not had to deal with any “real” characters sticking their oars in. I’m sure if any do in the future I’ll gladly bump them off pronto. Come to think of it, there are one or two ghastly “real” characters around at the moment I might invite in just for the sheer pleasure of killing them off in as grizzly a way as possible. Any suggestions? (Ohhhhh yes!!!)

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

Sure, if it makes for a better read yes. Getting around it is easy. A novel is a two way trade, as a writer you put your trust in the reader. Writers of fiction are just longwinded liars with ISBNs, tellers of tall tales, spinners of yarns. Readers, and I’m one too, get this. Just trust them.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Oh yeah. To the point I sometimes have difficulty telling which is which anymore. I mean who’d have thought that… no let’s not go there. (Aw....go on! )

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

The majority of characters in Delivery Girl I have to say are pretty loathsome, and some I truly despise everything about them. Great fun to write though. Fallen in love with any? No. Felt protective of? Yes very. Odd when you consider they don’t exist in a physical sense. I think I need to get out more.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Anything and everything in novel form, with short stories, essays and polemics the vinegar in the salad. The only genre I don’t care for is wands and dragons. That’s not a criticism of the genre in any way. No it’s me. I’d love to join in the love-fest but however often and hard I try - I just don’t get it.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading The Delivery Girl?

Whatever your favourite tipple is, cheers. And a large belt of scotch on standby for a few of the scenes might be a good idea.

Last but not least... favourite author?

That is tough! There are so many, all the usual suspects, from Dickens to Orwell, Philip Roth, Wodehouse is an absolute treat, Steinbeck, Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Saul Bellow, I like Christopher Hitchens and Alan Bennett too, Stephen King, Ian McEwan – but personal choice? Top of the heap?

For me, Martin Amis.
Thanks Diana, it’s been a pleasure.

Reading your book was an amazing experience Tony, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to chat to you too.

Tony McAndrew

Having what little education thrashed into him by nuns caned out of him by grammar school, Tony kept a promise to himself to begin writing when he finished doing tedious stuff like working full time. After a wander through psychiatric nursing, the Met Police and almost thirty years as a frontline paramedic the time seemed about right. He still works now and again in Primary Care somewhere in Wales and lives happily on the Gower indulging in writing, reading, talking, drinking beer and floating in the sea with his wife.
The Delivery Girl is his first novel; anunapologetically dark and brutal story, part wish fulfilment for,and part homage to, all the abused children he saw fall through the cracks.  And still fall.
He is currently working on a prequel after finishing a lighter second novel – Mad Cat, Franz and The Bomb.

Tony is one of the exceptionally talented authors from the Wild Wolf Publishing literary stable.


Available at Amazon UK and Amazon dot com


© Diana Milne January 2017 © Tony McAndrew 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are they now... Ann Radcliffe - contributed by Richard Abbott

This is the first of an occasional series on authors who were once household names - and in some cases hugely wealthy - but who nowadays are largely unknown.

Ann Radcliffe (Wiki)
Ann Radcliffe (Wiki)
Today's focus is on Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823). Ann was born into a middle-class family, and seems to have been shy as a young person. She married William Radcliffe in 1787 - he was a journalist and editor of The English Chronicle, a paper of fairly radical opinions. It was he who initially supported and encouraged her writing. But before long the support - at least in a financial sense - was the other way around. At a time when the typical annual income of a writer was around £10, she sold the copyright to The Mysteries of Udopho for £500 in 1794, and three years later earned £800 for The Italian. These figures were considered unbelievable by leading publishers, and placed her as the highest paid writer of her time. It's hard to compare money values from a couple of hundred years ago, but  in terms of a wage bonus, that £500 would be roughly £600,000 today, and in terms of your economic power, more like £6 million (see the web site Measuring Worth). Not bad, by anybody's standards, and one could reasonably compare her to JK Rowling.

Cover - The Mysteries of Udolpho (Goodreads)
Cover - The Mysteries of Udolpho (Goodreads)
Ann began her writing, like many others of her time, with travel literature, and descriptions of place form key parts of her later novels. In an age where tourism was becoming a popular activity for the middle class, but in which most people had never actually visited many other countries, the travel writer was in high demand. Her first novel, in 1789, was The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, set in the highlands of Scotland. She then proceeded to publish four more novels, each in several volumes, over the next eight years. A final novel - a historical romance - was published posthumously, along with a philosophical essay. Perhaps the best known of the works of fiction is The Mysteries of Udolpho. Her chosen genre was the gothic novel, and she rapidly established herself as the leading exponent of that style, She took an existing form - first created by Horace Walpole in his 1764 Castle of Otranto - and transformed it into a serious literary form.


Cover - The Italian (Goodreads)
Cover - The Italian (Goodreads)
One of the great mysteries of her life is why, following the enormous successes of those five novels, she disappeared from the public eye and remained in seclusion  for the rest of her life - some twenty-five years. Sir Walter Scott wrote of her that "no author, whose works were so universally read and admired, was so little personally known." There were rumours - almost certainly untrue - that she had gone mad and been confined in an asylum. The truth seems to be more ordinary. She had financial security, lived a pleasant and satisfying life with her husband, and moreover strongly disliked the way that the gothic novel had developed. In Ann's hands, it was a lyrical art form exploring human relations, gender roles and stereotypes, and showed a growing interest in what we would now call psychological states. Others treated it in sensational and lurid ways, focusing on violence and horror. It seems that her abandonment of the genre was, at least partly, because she did not like what it had become. Her last novel in her early productive period, The Italian, was subtitled A Romance, and shows a movement away from gothic novels.

Cover, Lake District Observations (Books Cumbria)
Cover, Lake District Observations (Books Cumbria)
Her observations as a travel writer are sensitive and acute. I first came across her writing in the form of a travel guide to the Lake District. Her descriptions of places and journeys are still easily recognisable now, especially the climb to the summit of Skiddaw. She did the trip on a pony, whereas I have walked it, but the route is the same. Here's a later section describing her journey south to Grasmere, along what we now call the A591:

Beyond Dunmail Rays, one of the grand passes from Cumberland into Westmoreland, Helm-crag rears its crest, a strange, fantastic summit, round, yet jagged and splintered, like the wheel of a water-mill, overlooking Grasmere, which, soon after, opened below. A green spreading circle of mountains embosoms this small lake, and, beyond, a wider range rises in amphitheatre, whose rocky tops are rounded and scalloped, yet are great, wild, irregular, and were then overspread with a tint of pale purple.

Like her fiction, her travel prose is flowing and engaging, leading you easily between outward appearance and inward reflection. Many of the famous travel writers of her day were creating books to help artists find the ideal location for a painting - a style known as picturesque: Ann wanted to experience the places in an emotional way, and for their own sake rather than as a source of pictures.

Cover, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (Goodreads)
Cover, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (Goodreads)
How can her writing be characterised? Firstly, everything has a rational explanation, however mysterious it seems at first. The characters in her books might well be persuaded by terror or guilt that supernatural things are afoot, but the truth eventually emerges. Rationality lives alongside emotion, authentic spirituality, and a deeply moral view on life. She established a feminine voice on what was then called the sublime - what we might now call the numinous - at a time when most opinions on the subject were written by men. The women in her books are at first trapped by the expectations of their society, and subject to all manner of fears and swoons - but they are able to change and adapt by finding a source of inner strength. The central characters are normally led to false conclusions by believing too easily in rumours and half-truths, but in the end the real truth is revealed. Mysteries abound, not least in the background histories of the central characters, and these slowly reveal all kinds of unexpected secrets.

Like many gothic novels, her books are set in a wild and romantic past, typically outside England.They would nowadays be classed as historical novels. For example, Udolpho is set in the late 16th century in southern France and northern Italy. At this stage she had not personally visited either country, but her descriptions are so vivid and compelling that this is very easy to forget.  In a day before Google Earth, photography, and widespread international travel, she relied heavily on the accounts of others... yet it is easy to believe as you read her that the accounts are based on personal observation. The wild terrain is a source of delight and inspiration rather than fear and darkness, especially for her women characters who retreat to such locations to find solace and peace. Some of her vocabulary may be old, but her preoccupations and interests still resonate well today.

In short, I feel that Ann Radcliffe deserves to be better known, although on balance I'm not sure that she would mind the rather concealed role she now fills. As early as 1862, Thackeray could lament that the younger generation did not know her works. In fact, most of the major 19th century British authors acknowledge their debt to her - Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Walter Scott, and Charles Dickens, for example - quite apart from those of other countries. like Dostoevsky, whose parents read her books to him in the evenings. However, these people have remained household names, while she has not.

It's appropriate to finish with part of her obituary in the Literary Gazette: "the finest writer in this kind of fiction that ever existed."

About the author:
Richard Abbott is one of the reviewers at The Review, and lives in London, England. He writes science fiction about our solar system in the fairly near future, and also historical fiction set in the ancient Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Canaan and Israel.

When not writing words or computer code, he enjoys spending time with family, walking, and wildlife, ideally combining all three pursuits in the English Lake District. He is the author of In a Milk and Honeyed LandScenes From a LifeThe Flame Before Us - and most recently Far from the Spaceports. and Timing. He can be found at his website or blog, on Google+GoodreadsFacebook and Twitter.